Randall Bateman, MD, has been named the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor in Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, announced the appointment.
“Thanks to Randy’s exceptional research, we have taken important steps forward in the long battle to understand and conquer Alzheimer’s disease,” Wrighton says. “We’re grateful that the generosity of Chuck and Joanne Knight will allow us to further support his research with a new endowed professorship.”
“In both the laboratory and the clinic, Randy has had a remarkable impact on Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment,” Shapiro says. “He’s now making preparations to lead a first-of-its-kind clinical trial to see if we can stop Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms start to appear.”
Bateman was officially installed in his new position at a ceremony May 21. Earlier that month, he received the MetLife Foundation’s Promising Young Investigator Award.
Bateman treats patients with dementia at the Memory Diagnostics Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He has been a faculty member at the School of Medicine since 2006.
“I am honored to be appointed as the first Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor,” Bateman says. “Chuck and Joanne Knight have been exceptional supporters of Alzheimer’s research for many years now, and that support has catalyzed Alzheimer’s research and helped launch the field into an exciting new era.”
Bateman developed a technique that made it possible to answer a critical question about Alzheimer’s disease: Do Alzheimer’s patients get brain plaques because they’re making more amyloid beta, the main ingredient of the plaques, or because their ability to clear amyloid beta from the brain is declining? Bateman’s innovation, known as stable isotope-labeling kinetics (SILK), made it possible to answer this question by tagging a component of the amyloid beta protein, allowing scientists to track amyloid beta production and clearance rates.
In 2010, Bateman and his colleagues reported in an initial study of 24 participants from the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center that clearance was the problem. Healthy individuals and patients recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s made amyloid beta at the same rate, but the amyloid beta clearance rate had dropped by 30 percent in Alzheimer’s patients.
“Randy has the ability not only to be innovative but to be undaunted by challenges,” says David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and chair of the Department of Neurology. “He has an amazing focus. In the medically historic way, he was his own first research subject: he was the initial person to have his amyloid beta production and clearance rates assessed via SILK.”
Bateman is associate director of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN), an international collaborative study dedicated to describing the changes that lead to dominantly inherited forms of Alzheimer’s. Families enrolled in the DIAN study have mutations that cause Alzheimer’s symptoms to appear decades earlier than other forms of the disease. An individual who inherits one of these mutations typically develops symptoms of the disease in the 30s to 50s.
In a clinical trial anticipated to start later this year, Bateman and other researchers will test whether they can use newly developed drugs to postpone or prevent these symptoms in patients who have one of the Alzheimer’s mutations.
“We want to prevent damage and loss of brain cells by intervening early in the disease process even before outward symptoms are evident,” Bateman says. “If we wait until symptoms begin, it may be too late.”
The new professorship is the second at Washington University to be endowed by the Knights, who have been leaders in supporting Alzheimer’s disease research. Joanne Knight is a longtime board member and former chair of the St. Louis Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Knights have committed more than $15 million to advance Alzheimer’s research at Washington University School of Medicine. The university’s Charles F. And Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is named in recognition of their generosity.
Support from the Knights has also helped create or sustain the Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital; the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center and the Breast Cancer Program at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center; the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center; the soon-to-be constructed Knight Hall at the Olin School of Business; and other Washington University initiatives and institutions.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.